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The government has admitted that traffic levels on Britain's roads will rise by more than a third by the year 2010 ...
The government has admitted that traffic levels on Britain's roads will rise by more than a third by the year 2010 - even if plans in the transport white paper for local congestion charging and traffic controls are finally put into law. The news comes only a day after the government announced revised targets on air pollution, hailed by ministers as giving the public a 'right to clean air'.

Replying to a series of written questions from Norman Baker (Lib Dem MP for Lewes), transport minister Glenda Jackson has admitted that even if the transport white paper is put into law traffic levels will be 37% higher in 2010 than in 1990. If the white paper is only implemented in London and some other major cities, traffic levels will be 39% higher. Previous forecasts were for 40% traffic growth over the period. The last Queen's Speech did not contain a Transport Bill, but some of the white paper's proposed powers are included in the Bill to set up a mayor and assembly for London.

The admission will prove highly embarrassing to deputy prime minister, John Prescott who said on his appointment that he 'will have failed if in five years time if ... there are not far fewer journeys by car. It's a tall order but I urge you to hold me to it' [The Guardian: 6/6/97]. Transport minister Glenda Jackson reaffirmed her support for a cut in traffic only last year: 'I thought I had made the position clear ... there should be a reduction in road traffic' [Hansard: 18/3/98. col 55].

Ms Jackson also admitted that carbon dioxide emissions from road transport are likely to rise. Assuming a continuing rise in fuel duty of 6% a year over inflation, but no other policy changes, the level of CO2 emissions from cars will grow by 6% between 1996 and 2010 (a 28% increase in CO2 emissions from rising traffic levels, offset by a 22% reduction in emissions because of predicted improvements in the energy efficiency of vehicles). Emissions from road freight will increase by 3% (traffic levels rise by 22%, offset by an 18% improvement in energy efficiency). This answer appears to contradict government claims in the white paper (paragraph 2.61) that CO2 road traffic emissions could fall by '22-27%' between 1995 and 2010.

Commenting, FOE parliamentary campaigner Ron Bailey said:

'The cat is finally out of the bag. Labour's transport policies will not achieve Mr Prescott's promised traffic reduction. People all over the country will suffer more congestion. Labour has abandoned a key election pledge and ministers are reneging on undertakings given to the House of Commons.

'Mr Prescott asked to be judged by the number of cars on the road. If he is serious, he must now set a firm, clear road traffic reduction target. We think a cut of 10% over 1990 levels by 2010 is both realistic and achievable. To plan for continuing increases, as the DETR now seems to be doing, is to abandon any claim to be putting the environment at the heart of government'.


[1] In a series of Written Questions, Norman Baker MP (Lib Dem, Lewes) asked the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions to estimate the likely rise in traffic levels between 1990 and 2010:

1. before the new policies in the transport white paper

2. if the white paper is put into effect across the country, and

3. if the white paper is put into effect in London, and in one third of other large cities (with an area of over 25 square kilometres)

The replies are set out in Hansard Written Answers, 12 January 1999 cols 187 to 190.

[2] The estimates of traffic levels assuming implementation of the white paper 'included only those measures where the impact could be easily quantified, which included central area cordon charges and complementary public transport improvement'.

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